“Can I help you?”

A FAQ Guide to Shopping for Your Computer

Welcome, everybody! I decided to compile these FAQ because I believe that working at the Computer Connection has given me special insight into the needs of computer customers everywhere. I realized after a mere six weeks on the job that although we cater to a relatively diverse clientele, some questions are universal. I wrote this guide in order to lay to rest rumors and misconceptions about how to shop at a computer store. Enjoy!

Q: When a clerk asks me what kind of computer I use, is it necessary to describe my machine beyond “just a regular computer”?

A: Although not necessary, it is preferable and often helpful to the clerk when a customer can provide the brand and model name. I know this information is frequently confusing to customers, however, so I have provided A Quick Guide to Identifying Your Computer.

Q: Out of the corner of my eye, I see white pieces of paper taped to the walls by the counter. These pieces of paper often have a large, bold type heading of “ATTENTION,” followed by smaller type. Should I bother to read these signs or simply ignore them?

A: You should read them. Signs posted around the store counter often contain useful information that may very well be relevant to your situation. Likewise, if you are considering purchasing a product—say, Microsoft Office—it is often beneficial to read signs titled with, say—“Microsoft Office.”

Q: Do the numbers and/or letters mean anything—for example, Windows 95, 98, 98 2nd edition, NT, and 2000? Isn’t it true that Windows is Windows is Windows?

A: While it is true that the label “Windows" often denotes a difficult, aesthetically displeasing, and most likely unstable product, numbers and/or letters are frequently used to distinguish different versions. Think of it as a gameshow situation: What’s behind Door A is not the same as what’s behind Door B…

Q: Is it true that the higher the number is on a piece of software, the better it will be for my computer? Is “upgrading” when one automatically selects something with the highest available number every six months?

A: False. Numbers are not everything, especially when one is upgrading. It is crucial to read the product description, since numbers are often misleading to customers. For example, if you have Windows 98, you should not automatically install Windows 2000. Likewise, if you have a Macintosh, you should not select Microsoft Office 2000 (PC only) over Microsoft Office 98 for Macintosh. Upgrading should not be based on the same principles as the card game War.

Q: I went to the computer store today and described what I was looking for to a clerk: “Hi, I need that...um...thing for my computer…” Do I need to be more specific?

A: Yes. (S)he was probably confused by your choice of words. Since stores often carry a multitude of “things,” it can be difficult to narrow the the field when confronted with the terms thing or things despite their notable history in film and literature (Ambrose Bierce’s short story “The Damned Thing,” James Herriot’s novel All Things Wise & Wonderful, Maurice Sendak’s illustrated children’s book Where the Wild Things Are, Wes Craven’s film Swamp Thing, et cetera). One can frequently offer a more specific description of the desired product by merely concentrating for five to ten seconds and visualizing it: Is it a round and shiny, like a software disc? Long and narrow, like a cable? Alternatively, one may try the more challenging route of “What does it do?”

Q: Is it true that doing a little bit of research permanently damages brain cells?

A: False. Studies have actually shown the opposite: Using one’s mind actively combats atrophy of the brain and possibly increases one’s overall competence as a human being.

Q: Is this old saying true: “The customer is always right”?

A: No, and I’d like to shoot whoever began that rumor.

Written in September 2000